Remember Who You Are!
A Sermon Celebrating
the 75 th Anniversary
United Methodist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey
October 29, 2000
Myers Park Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as it
was originally named, was organized in 1925 and held
its first service of worship on October 25, 1925, in the
chapel in Queens College Burwell Hall. About one
month later, the congregation purchased the property
located at the intersection of Queens and Providence
Roads. The wooden store which occupied this site was
converted into a temporary sanctuary seating about 200
people. By Christmas, church services were being held
here, Charter membership was closed on December 31,
1925, with 151 charter members. On the occasion of its
75 th anniversary, Myers Park United Methodist Church
has over 4,000 members.
Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey is Bishop of the
Columbia Area of the United Methodist Church. He
served as Senior Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist
Church from 1991-1996, when he was elected to the
Digitized by the Internet Archive
Remember Who You Are!
J. Lawrence McCleskey
75th Anniversary Sermon
Myers Park United Methodist Church
October 29, 2000
Romans 12:1-21; Matthew 5:1-2. 13-16
It's a new breed of thief. They steal the identities of
persons. These are people who use the tools of the
information age to impersonate other persons, some of
them dead, and order hundreds of thousands of dollars
worth of merchandise in their names. I saw the headline
in USA TODAY just a few months ago (May 8, 2000):
"IN INTERNET AGE, IDENTITY THEFT HAPPENS
'ALL THE TIME.'" The article went on to tell of a
number of instances in which cyberspace criminals
literally stole the identities of living and recently
deceased business executives by getting access to bank
and credit card account numbers, Social Security
numbers, and other vital information, which was then
used to carry out wire transfers of funds and order
diamonds and Rolex watches, which were delivered to
hotel addresses where the thieves picked up their booty.
The good news was that two men had been arrested and
charged with 29 counts of such theft. The bad news is
that "identity experts 11 say this kind of theft is relatively
easy and 'happens all the time. 11
None of us here would want to have his or her identity
stolen in that manner. None of us would want to lose the
identifying marks of who he or she is in this way. Our
identities are important to us, and we want to maintain
That is certainly true of us as individuals. I believe it is
also true of us in other ways. For instance, I believe that
the identity of institutions is also vitally important, and I
want to explore with you on this 75th anniversary
Sunday some aspects of the identity of this institution
we know as Myers Park United Methodist Church. First,
a bit about the importance of identity.
Jean Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, could be
said to have lived by the philosophy that "to be is to do."
Descartes, the philosopher famous for the phrase, "I
think, therefore I am," could be said to have lived by the
philosophy that "to do is to be." Someone once
suggested that the singer, Frank Sinatra, lived by the
philosophy of "Dooby, dooby, doo."
It's a basic issue of life: the relationship between "do"
and "be" - between doing and being. The question is
simple: does our doing reflect our being? Does what we
do, how we act, the manner
in which we live, truly reflect who we are, our true
identity? Are we true to who we are? If not,
it may not be that our identity has been stolen - but that
we have given it away.
Have you noticed how often Jesus defined himself not
by what he did but by who he was? Look
at the numerous times in the gospel of John when Jesus
referred to his own identity, his being. He referred to
himself in significant ways, saying in these instances, "I
-Messiah, he who is called Christ (4:25-26)
-the bread of life (6:35, 41,51)
-the gate for the sheep (10:7 & 9)
-the good shepherd (10:11 & 14)
-the resurrection and the life (1 1 :25)
-the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
-the true vine (15:1 & 5)
-and, twice to the soldiers looking for Jesus of
Nazareth, "I am he." (18:5 & 8)
It is obvious that Jesus regarded his identity as
Jesus was also concerned with the identity of his
disciples. The gospel text from Matthew makes that
abundantly clear. It comes from The Sermon on the
Mount. Following the Beatitudes, those pithy summaries
of the kinds of living which Jesus tells us characterize
lives committed to the rule of God, Jesus gives us two
admonitions which are words about identity: "You are
the salt of the earth .... You are the light of the world."
It's as if Jesus is saying, "You are to flavor the life of the
world by your own lives, by your faithfulness to this life
of which I have spoken. And you are to bring light to the
world by your own lives, your faithfulness to the life I
have taught you. 11 The key is whether his disciples
remain true to their identities - whether they remain true
to their calling. The key is identity. It's another way of
Jesus telling his disciples that when they remember who
they are the role of God is extended in the world.
"Remember who you are! The work of God depends on
So I say to this congregation on this anniversary Sunday
- as you celebrate 75 years of ministry and step into the
next 75 and more: Remember who you are! Hold fast to
your identity! Don't let it be taken from you! And don't
give it away by simply not remembering! The work of
God in this place depends on it. The thing that will keep
you faithfUl into the future is the thing that has kept you
faithful in the past! Remember who you are!
And what a marvelous identity it is!
You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS
This congregation, founded in 1925, moved quickly to
build this structure in which we are gathered for worship
today. Groundbreaking was held and the cornerstone for
this sanctuary was
laid in 1929. On March 9, 1930 the congregation
worshiped in this building for the first time. There was
built into the structure itself a clear and lasting reminder
that this community of faith is grounded in Jesus Christ.
There are two side entrances at the rear narthex of the
sanctuary, and over each of them is an inscription. Both
inscriptions come from the gospel of John, from words
Jesus used to identify himself. Over the one on the
Providence Road side is inscribed: "I am the way. 11 And
over the entrance on the Queens Road side is inscribed,
"I am the door." The presence of these words over those
entrances to this sanctuary is an intentional way of
saying from the very beginning, "We are a community
grounded in Jesus Christ."
Margaret and I had the wonderful privilege a little over a
year ago of visiting Zimbabwe, where we spent two
weeks visiting in congregations and mission stations of
The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and one
week at Africa University. One of the visits was to a
rural community named Nenohwe. I met there the pastor
and a group of members of the Nenohwe United
Methodist Church. They took me to their church
building, which was under construction. They were
making the bricks for it themselves, and they had
already made 60,000 bricks. They had laid the
foundation with stone gathered from the surrounding
fields, and inside the foundation they had placed dirt and
rocks to make the floor. The next step was to be the
raising of the walls. They wanted me to pray for their
church. I began to bow my head to pray, and they
stopped me - until we could all gather INSIDE the
foundation. Then I prayed. I have no doubt about the
vitality of that congregation. They will never build a
structure as magnificent as this one in which we are
gathered this morning, but there is no question about the
magnificence of their spiritual foundation. It is the same
as this one. Two congregations: One in Zimbabwe, with
a hundred persons at the most, in a rock, dirt, and
homemade brick building constructed by the worshipers.
One at the corner of Queens and Providence Roads in
Charlotte, worshiping today in a sanctuary constructed
and paid for by persons long since gone to glory. But
both of them grounded in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the
Church. You know the truth of what we sang at the
beginning of this service of worship: "The Church's One
Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord." You are A
COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST
And you are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN
NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP! For 75 years you
have been nurtured in worship - weekly worship. First it
was in the auditorium at Queens College. Then it was in
the community store which occupied this site prior to
the construction of this sanctuary. I have loved, since I
first heard it. almost a decade ago, Bob Dalton's
observation. Bob, as most of you know, is still in this
congregation, a son of one of the founding members of
the church. I have loved it, Bob. He said, "I have been
coming to this corner for bread all my life." And for the
last 70 years you and others have come to this building
for the bread of life. Again, an inscription, this one over
the main entrance at the rear of the sanctuary: "Enter To
Worship." They knew from the beginning, those who
founded this church, that central to its identity was this
act of worship.
Worship has been called the most distinctive identifying
aspect of the church. The worship of God is the one
thing the church does that no other institution in our
society does. There are other institutions which provide
educational experiences. There are other institutions
which serve the
needs of people. But the church is the only institution in
our society which regularly, as part of its identity and
life, gathers for the worship of God.
Think for a moment about the power of worship in this
place over 75 years. It has not been the same for all
those years. The sanctuary itself has changed: in the
beginning the pulpit was in the center, with the choir
behind - until the chancel was divided and the altar
moved to the wall and a beautiful dossal cloth added in
the early 1950's. The order of service has changed
numerous times over the years. The pipe organ was not
here at the beginning, and it has been rebuilt in the last
five years. Some worship now at Church in the Round.
The congregation has long ago grown past the point that
everyone can get inside to worship together. There have
been changes - these and others. But the essential thing
is that there has been worship here at Queens and
Providence for 75 years, at the center of the life of this
When in Zimbabwe last year I visited Mutambara, one
of the mission centers of The United Methodist Church
there. I saw the elementary and high schools, and the
machine shop where students are taught welding, auto
repairs, small engine repair, and where they maintain all
the vehicles of the Mutambara Mission Center. Then I
visited the hospital - 124 beds, serving 130,000 people
in the Chimanimani District of Eastern Zimbabwe. One
of three physicians who were there at the time was Dr.
Rudy from Wisconsin. When he retired from practice in
Wisconsin in 1994 he went back to Mutambara, his
second tour there. He and the other physicians and
nurses deliver 85-100 babies per month. The physicians
handle the Caesarean and problem deliveries; midwives
care for all the rest. There is a "Waiting Mothers Home"
with 24 beds for women in the last month of pregnancy.
They care for themselves, cooking their meals
communally on open air stoves under a covered outdoor
shelter. Two of the wards in the hospital deal with
tuberculosis; 90% of those patients are HIV positive. Dr.
Rudy talked about the shortage of staff, the problem of
aging equipment, the challenge of treating patients the
majority of whom will die from preventable diseases
(AIDS and malaria). I asked him how he coped with all
those challenges, and in response he showed me the
chapel, where the hospital staff worship together every
day from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. Remarkable! The power of
worship to nurture and renew life, to strengthen us for
the challenges, to bind us into community.
What has it meant that for 75 years, at this place, the
people of God in this congregation have gathered to
worship? What has it meant in terms of encouragement
for life's challenges, direction in focusing service,
nurture in the shaping of values, the deepening of the
life of the spirit, the transformation of minds from
conformity to the ways of the world to conformity to the
will of God, undergirding for families in times of
celebration and of crisis? You are A COMMUNITY
THAT HAS BEEN NURTURED THROUGH
WORSHIP. And the power of that identity promises to
continue for the near and distant future. Never
underestimate the power of that identity.
You are A COMMUNITY GROUNDED IN JESUS
You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN
NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP
And there is one more thing: You are A COMMUNITY
THAT HAS BEEN DEFINED BY MISSION! That is
one of the remarkable things about this congregation -
your commitment to mission, your commitment to reach
out beyond yourselves and touch the needs of persons
whom you will never know with the grace and love of
When we left you and went to South Carolina a little
over four years ago, I continually encountered one
specific question about this church. 'Tell us, 11 people
would say, "about that capital campaign - the one in
which you gave away almost half the money for mission
causes. 11 For you, in a way, that kind of thing was simply
another example of letting your doing express your
being - of acting in a manner consistent with your
identity. Look at the history of this congregation:
-for years one of the leading churches in
Methodism in giving to Advance Special mission
-for years gathering in a magnificent Easter
offering to be distributed to a variety of mission
causes outside your own walls;
-for years providing unprecedented support, in
both dollars and people, to the Bethlehem Center
-for years annually sending persons on mission
teams to places near and far around the globe,
youth and adults - building teams, medical
mission teams, Habitat teams, hurricane and
-demonstrating in these and so many ways that
you know that to be the church means that you
are called to give yourselves away in the name of
Let me go to Zimbabwe one more time - to Africa
University. When Margaret and I entered that campus
for the first time in August, 1999 we were thrilled to see
students there playing soccer and basketball on playing
fields and courts provided by this congregation.
I have heard that you are in the planning stages of a new
campaign - to provide much-needed additional facilities
for the expanding ministries of this church. I have also
heard that you will include in this campaign as well an
outreach component so that, even as you take the next
step in construction for the ministries here, you will also
reach out with ministries to others. How do I respond to
hearing that? I said, "Of course! That's who this church
You are A COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN
DEFINED BY MISSION
So today we celebrate: 75 years of ministry. We
celebrate that past and its identity:
-GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST;
-NURTURED THROUGH WORSHIP;
-DEFINED BY MISSION.
Out of that past you will create your future.
'To be is to do?"
"To do is to be?"
Or, "Dooby, Dooby, Do?"
Maybe that's it, after all. "Dooby, Dooby, Do."
Do/Be/Do/Be/Do! Let your doing flow from your being.
That's what this church has worked at for 75 years. The
Hymn of Promise has it right:
"From the past shall come the future ..."
What a past to celebrate!
What a future to create!
Wednesday, October 25, 2000
Seasons of Love: A 75 th Anniversary Gala - 6:00pm, Westbrook
This church-wide celebration is on the exact date of the establishing
of MPUMC. Enjoy a nostalgic musical evening featuring dinner
and the sights and sounds of the past 75 years.
Thursday, October 26, 2000
The Riga Dome Boys Choir from Latvia - 7:00pm, Sanctuary
A choir of musically gifted boys, professionally trained and
accompanied by tenors and basses, represents the finest European
choral tradition. This choir was unknown to western audiences
prior to 1989, although it was quite famous within the Soviet Union.
During the last decade it has toured the world and received
international acclaim from Japan to North America and throughout
Friday, October 27, 2000
Fall Family Fest - 7:00pm Westbrook Hall
Children and their parents dress up in their finest costumes and join
in this night of games, fun. and surprised. The Family Fest features
everything from hay rides, space walk and temporary tattoos to an
old-fashioned cupcake walk.
Saturday, October 28, 2000
Fall Service Day - 9:00am - Noon. Aldersgate Hall
Meet for juice and doughnuts then break into groups for service
projects both at the church and at various MPUMC supported
agencies throughout Charlotte. Childcare for ages 2 and under.
Service projects for ages 3 -third grade will be held in Aldersgate
Hall. All ages invited.
Sunday, October 29, 2000
Anniversary Sunday Worship - Sanctuary 8:30 and 1 1:00am,
Church in the Round 9:00am
Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, Sanctuary Preacher
Chapel Choir, Brass Charlotte, and Percussion.
Reception in Westbrook Hall following 11:00am Service.